ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) much-advertised Billion Tree Tsunami campaign comes in for denunciation amid ecologists’ reservations that the campaign is a futile exercise as wrong species of trees are identified for wrong places.

"Undoubtedly, the tree plantation campaign is a wonderful initiative but our main concern is that the PTI-led government has identified wrong species for wrong places," Dr. Lal Badshah, an ecologist and assistant professor at Botany department in University of Peshawar, told News Lens Pakistan.

For example, conocarpus is being planted in the vicinity of Peshawar, he said, adding that the plant is not that environment-friendly for that area.

He said dodonea is also being planted, which is tantamount to wasting nation’s money because it is also not suitable for the area.

"They should have planted Zizphus, which grows comparatively fast and more environment-friendly," he noted.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan while planting sapling in Haripur, a district in the KP, stressed to work vigorously to launch a comprehensive forestation campaign aimed at protecting ecosystem, environment and rural livelihood.

"The tree plantation drive will help prevent soil erosion and preserve natural resources," he hoped, saying that his government invited locals to play a proactive role to make the drive successful.

Dr. Badshah recalled that conocarpus plants were tried in Karachi, Sindh, and it was found that the plant left far-reaching negative impact on the environment in term of pollen allergy. Those plants, he said, were found negatively impacting other herbs and flora too while birds avoided to visit those plants as habitat for nesting.

However, another ecologist Dr. Farrukh Hussain said that the PTI tree plantation drive would "leave far-reaching positive impact on the environment in the long-run."

"Dodonea specie is being planted in parts of Peshawar City which is a blunder," he said, suggesting that environment only support Ziziphus nummularia.

Dr. Badshah said that planting these kinds of trees is equivalent to broussonetia, which was planted in Islamabad, the federal capital, in the early 60s, but that specie is now the main cause of spreading pollen allergy.

A senior official at the Capital Development Authority (CDA), who wished to go unnamed because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media, said that his department is now spending huge amount to eradicate the hazardous trees from parts of Islamabad amid public reservations of pollen allergy.

Politicians often refer to the word tsunami in an apparent attempt either to woo public attention or mount pressure on political rivals. "The PTI has opted for the word tsunami to make the plantation drive popular among people," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Agriculture Minister Ikramullah Gandapur told News Lens Pakistan.

He said the one billion tree plantation drive has been launched throughout the province, which is gaining momentum.

The PTI-led government, he said, has already announced Green Growth Initiative with a target to plant as many as one billion trees.

The campaign, he hoped would bolster forestlands up to 22 per cent, and multiply the number of national parks within the PTI’s five years mandated term in KP.

The Billion Tree Tsunami campaign would cost almost $300 million to be funded by the provincial government, he added. He said that around 17 million trees have been planted this year while other 248 million saplings would also be planted the same year.

But Dr. Badshah said that the government is planting species which are not native and suitable for the local environment.

A number of people in Islamabad have already a bitter experience of having broussonetia plants in Islamabad, which is the main source of allergy among thousands of residents.

"Pakistan has some 6,000 indigenous identified flora and so many trees are native to Pakistan," Dr. Badshah said. He suggested that native trees should be preferred over exotic ones, which are friendly to environment.

He went on to say that ecologists propose to grow acacia, monotheca and olea, acaiamodesta, dilbergiasiso, acaianilotica, zizyphus, rhizastricta and vitexnegundo, which are extremely environment-friendly.

Gandapur said that forestlands would be fully protected and even animals would not be allowed to graze on the protected land. He said that an inclusive strategy is being worked out to discourage the trend of timber smuggling, which inflicts billions of rupees loss to national exchequer.

He said the provincial government has plans to "leave behind a green and prosperous environment for its next generation."

But Fakhar Azam Wazir, a lawmaker and opposition leader from the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, criticized the campaign by saying, "We didn’t see any green revolution or education revolution under the PTI-led government."

He alleged the tree campaign drive is nothing but yet another project for PTI lawmakers to make money through corrupt practices.

Malik Amin Aslam Khan, chairman of the PTI Green Growth Initiative in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, could not be reached for comments after repeated attempts.

However, in his article, Khan termed the Billion Tree Tsunami drive a wonderful scheme with a win-win opportunity for the province, the country and the world.

This piece first appeared in Newslens Pakistan and has been reproduced with permission.

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